Friday, December 7, 2012

A shot of spice at Patron Mexican Grill

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 10:22 AM

image

Have pity for our Central Arkansas Mexican restaurants: there are simply so many around that it's hard to differentiate one from another — sort of like a game of "Where's Waldo" with a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa. It's this very reason that caused me to bypass Patron Mexican Grill in Benton for nearly every one of the four years I've spent in Saline County, heading to the restaurant during my last week before moving only because all my cookware was packed away in boxes. Patron doesn't do much to stand out in terms of its exterior or decor, but don't let the almost-anonymous outside fool you: there is some serious spicy cooking going on inside. Couple this with service that is friendly and efficient and one of "dry" Saline County's best cocktail lists, and suddenly Patron is worth a lot more notice than I ever gave the place.

Starting the meal is pretty standard: head to a table, order a drink, and enjoy your complimentary chips and salsa. The salsa is thin, but very fresh tasting, with obvious diced peppers and cilantro that serve to give it a nice flavor. I won't go quite as far as saying that I've paid for salsa that wasn't as good as this, but it was definitely one of the stronger contenders for "best free salsa" in the area. The menu ranges from standards like tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, but includes several different styles of fajitas and an even stranger squash enchilada that is sure to catch the eye of any visiting vegetarian tired of only having rice and beans as an option.

Throwing authenticity to the wind, we started with the Chicken Chimichanga, and Patron's version of the Tex-Mex classic came out fried to a golden crisp and covered with a velvety cheese sauce. The chimichanga was stuffed with marinated chicken, and the rich, spicy flavor of that tender chicken was the first thing that raised our respect for Patron. Subtle spices mingled with peppers and onions gave the chicken a wonderful flavor, and the crisp-fried flour shell was substantial enough to stand up to both the moist protein inside and the ample cheese sauce outside. The result was bite after bite of excellent shredded chicken made even better by the fresh guacamole and pico de gallo served to the side.

image

The greatest discovery of the meal, though, was the Pork Verde, a massive portion of grilled pork chunks swimming in a tangy tomatillo salsa that was bursting with hot, fresh flavor. For the perfect pork in green sauce, the pork must first be grilled to create a good, seared flavor and color, then braised in salsa until the meat is tender. Patron succeeds with both aspects of their version, with the smoky pork providing a deep foundation for the light, slightly sour sauce. Too many times I've had this dish where the pork is chewy and full of gristle and the sauce just a bland after-thought; Patron's pork was lean and tender with a sauce that was spicy and good.

If there's anything I should have learned after a few years in this business of discussing food, it's that just like a book shouldn't be judged by its cover, neither should a restaurant be judged by its exterior. Patron seems a little anonymous at first glance, tucked away off a service road near Home Depot, and while the menu isn't anything that will shock or surprise the average diner, it's the execution of these staples of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine that make the place worth a visit. It's obvious that the cooks at Patron know their way around melding ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, and cilantro into sauces and marinades that complement and accentuate their various offered meats in a way that seems to escape all too many Mexican joints. In addition, the place knows its way around the grill as well, and the smoky flavor of each meat is paired perfectly with the excellent sauces. It was a surprising meal for me, mostly because I'd driven right past the place for years and not given it a second thought: that was a mistake on my part. Patron isn't high-end fare, and it lacks the gritty authenticity of a taco wagon, but good food is good food, and Patron is serving it up daily.

Patron Mexican Grill is located at 17324 Interstate 30, in the same shopping center as the Tinseltown Theater, and they are open for lunch and dinner daily.

Tags: , ,

Favorite

Speaking of...

  • The Green Goat's small truck boasts big flavor

    July 5, 2016
    The Green Goat A much needed niche for spicy and exotic Cuban food is being filled in Fayetteville by The Green Goat. /more/
  • Mexican food returning to Village Shopping Center

    November 10, 2015
    Conway-based Playa Azul coming to South University. /more/
  • Ponchito's serves tasty Mexican

    December 8, 2014
    Ponchito's Mexican Grill on Rodney Parham is home to some of the best tamales we've eaten in the city — and everything else is pretty good, too. /more/
  • The Dogtown Grand Tour: Taqueria y Carniceria Guadalajara

    June 16, 2014
    Next up on the tour is Taqueria y Carniceria Guadalajara, on Camp Robinson Rd in the Levy neighborhood of North Little Rock. I spent quite a few years in South Texas and I wondered if it could possibly compare to the taquerias I frequented there, but the constantly-packed parking lot soon convinced me to give it a shot. The rest is history. Guadalajara is now one of my favorite places around for quick, cheap, authentic Mexican food and a great experience. /more/
  • The 5 Best Dishes for Cinco de Mayo in Central Arkansas

    May 4, 2014
    It may not actually represent “Mexican Independence Day,” but it sure is a darn good excuse to eat Mexican food. Central Arkansas is littered with great Mexican restaurants...perhaps more than any other cuisine type in existence. But this makes it simple to find somewhere to celebrate this spiciest of holidays. Here’s 5 to try on May 5. /more/
  • A taste of Table Mesa in Conway

    March 27, 2014
    Recently, I had a chance to stop in on the newest location of this small chain of restaurants during a short trip to Conway—and honestly, since my meal here, I can’t stop thinking about making a return visit. Let any questions about the "quality" of this place be laid to rest. I’m hoping that someday the folks at Table Mesa decide to extend their mini-empire to Little Rock, but truthfully, the short trip to Conway is definitely not enough to keep me away for long. /more/
  • At Vino's, some like it hot

    February 18, 2014
    Adding scorpion peppers to beer might seem strange, but Vino's brew master Josiah Moody has formulated a milk stout that brings the heat while still providing a rich, very drinkable beer. /more/
  • Remember the Mexican breakfast

    January 16, 2014
    Something that’s still missing, in general, from our Mexican food offering is the promise of a great Mexican breakfast. There’re just not enough options. /more/
  • Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales are a true Delta delight

    January 10, 2014
    If you’ve got an opportunity to make the approximately two hour drive down to Lake Village, or perhaps you’ve got a kind friend already making the trip, I encourage you to get your hands on some of these tamales. Rhoda’s “Famous” Hot Tamales are so for good reason—every Arkansan should have the pleasure of sampling some at some time in their life. /more/
  • Doe's and the trouble with tamales

    October 31, 2013
    Doe’s does a respectable version of this classic Mexican dish. It’s easy for me to see why these Delta tamales have become a staple in Little Rock and the surrounding southern communities. It’s a recipe that’s been working for them since 1941, so I doubt they’ll be changing things up any time soon. /more/
  • More »

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Michael Roberts

  • Arkansas Times Recommends: The Think Edition

    Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week. In anticipation of Arkansas Times' Festival of Ideas this Saturday at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, we recommend things that make us think.
    • Sep 23, 2016
  • When it comes to pub grub, Flyway soars

    North Little Rock makes its bid for superior pub eating with Flyway Brewing.
    • Sep 13, 2016
  • The dream of the 90s is alive with Pepsi

    Sate your nostalgia for the sodas of yesteryear with the relaunch of Crystal Pepsi.
    • Aug 31, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Pine Bluff's Sno-White Grill to close

    A Pine Bluff institution announces that it will close.
    • Feb 6, 2015
  • We can do better, Little Rock

    The Friday Five open line is here, and we're talking restaurant sales numbers. You can talk about whatever you'd like.
    • Feb 20, 2015
  • The shame of Robert E. Lee/MLK Day in Arkansas

    This morning, I was a student ambassador for Philander Smith College and the Social Justice Institute at a House Committee that discussed Rep. Nate Bell’s proposal to divide a Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
    • Feb 11, 2015

Most Shared

Blogroll

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation